Four times as many Britons have died as a result of cold weather than warm temperatures in recent decades, but the gap is closing, new figures suggest.
Researchers estimate there were more than 53,000 heat-related deaths and more than 215,000 cold-related deaths in England and Wales between 1988 and 2022.
While England has historically had many more cold deaths, the Office for National Statistics said heat-related deaths appeared to have increased in recent years.
There were more than 4,500 in 2022, more than any other year in the analysis.
Last year was the UK’s hottest according to records dating back to the late 19th century, and scientists warn that 40C summers will become more common in the future as the climate warms.
The shaded area shows the optimal temperature range, where the risk of mortality is lowest. The relative risk of death (curved lines) indicates the probability that an individual will die during or shortly after exposure to a given temperature.
ONS figures show the risk of dying in London triples when temperatures rise above 29°C, compared to when they are between 9°C and 22°C. All regions of England and Wales showed an increased risk of death above 22°C, with people aged over 65 being the most vulnerable.
While England has historically had many more cold deaths, the Office for National Statistics said heat-related deaths appeared to have increased in recent years. There were more than 4,500 in 2022, more than any other year in the analysis
ONS figures show the risk of dying in London triples when temperatures rise above 29°C, compared to when they are between 9°C and 22°C.
All regions of England and Wales showed an increased risk of death above 22C, with people over 65 the most vulnerable.
The greatest risk occurs when temperatures exceed 25°C or fall below -5°C.
Researchers at the University of Oxford recently published a report identifying the need to retrofit UK buildings to protect people from extreme heat.
Campaigners, MPs and charities are also urging the government to fully insulate homes to protect people in winter and help them save on energy costs.
HOW DOES HEAT KILL?
Hot weather can cause dehydration, which causes the blood to thicken. This can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It also lowers blood pressure, making it harder for blood to move around the body. This, in extreme cases, can lead to blood clots and strokes.
Overheating is particularly dangerous for patients with heart and respiratory problems.
There is also an increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially if you exercise outdoors in hot weather. This is caused by not drinking enough and losing fluids through sweat.
Studies have also found that accidents and injuries, such as those caused by car accidents, are higher around the world during heat waves.
Experts believe this is because heat can interfere with thinking, making mistakes more likely.
In large cities, the risk of overheating is greater due to the so-called “heat island effect” and can reach several degrees higher than in the surrounding countryside.
Buildings, roads and sidewalks absorb the sun’s energy and expel it, especially at night, making it difficult for people to cool off.
Gillian Flower, an ONS statistician, said: “Our analysis shows that, in England, historically very low temperatures were responsible for a greater number of deaths than very high temperatures, although in recent years there is some evidence that deaths related to heat have increased. increase.
‘We continue to develop our methods to measure climate-related health outcomes and monitor the situation in the context of the increasing frequency of hotter days.
“Direct causes of death vary with different temperatures; further work is needed to understand how this may be associated with extreme heat or cold.”
The NHS website warns that hot weather can cause dehydration and overheating, which can worsen symptoms in people who already have heart or breathing problems.
People at highest risk include those over 75 years of age, patients with a serious or long-term condition, those taking multiple medications, and people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
It is suggested to stay out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm, use sunscreen, a hat and light clothing, and avoid exercises or activities that generate more heat.
The health service also recommends people consume cold foods and drinks, take a cold shower and close windows during the day.
The NHS says staying warm during the winter months can help prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.
Muscle cramps may also become more common due to dehydration, as electrolytes and minerals vital to muscle function are lost through sweat. Hot weather can also cause some parts of the body, such as the hands, feet, and ankles, to swell. Heat causes blood vessels to expand, which can cause fluid to leak into surrounding tissues, causing swelling known as heat edema.
A woman walks her dog in snowy conditions near Hexham in January 2023.
Runners go for a morning run on Primrose Hill, north London, shortly after dawn today in September 2023.
The UK Health Safety Agency also warns that during cold weather people may use malfunctioning or inappropriate appliances to heat their homes and trip or slip on snow and ice.
It suggests heating homes to at least 18°C, wearing several layers of thinner clothing, moving around, and wearing shoes with good grip.
The ONS compiled its figures based on information from the Environmental Data Analysis Center and created a new method to understand how temperature affects the risk of death.
Their analysis also showed a sharp rise in deaths during the winter of 2010/11, when the UK saw unusually cold temperatures descending southwards from the Arctic.
Holly Holder, deputy director of homes at the Center for Aging Better, said: “These new statistics showing the growing health threat from rising temperatures confirm that it would be a serious mistake to slow down or roll back net zero policies.”
‘Too many people live in homes that are too cold in winter and too warm in summer and feel helpless when it comes to making the improvements their property needs.
“Poorer older people are proportionally more likely to live in less energy-efficient homes and are among those most likely to suffer a deterioration in their health during extreme weather conditions.
‘Climate change is not something that is only happening in Antarctica or very hot countries, but it is impacting and claiming lives here in the UK.
“Our homes are the oldest and poorest quality in Western Europe and are not suitable to meet the challenges of more extreme temperatures and climate.”